The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, warns extreme poverty, climate change and civil strife are generating more refugees around the world. He says the growing number of refugees and migrants is leading to more intolerance and xenophobia. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says refugee numbers were going down until 2005. He says the reason is that peace agreements ended wars in places such as Sudan, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone and allowed millions of people to return home.
He says about four million refugees went back to Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban and now just over two million refugees remain, mainly in Pakistan.
But, in the past few months, he says, there have been many arrivals of new refugees in Eastern Africa. He says people from Chad, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia and others are fleeing to escape war at home.
Guterres says an indication of the seriousness of the situation can be seen by how many of the 300-member UNHCR emergency response teams are being called into action.
"Last year, we moved altogether 174 people during the whole year," he said. "Until two weeks ago we have already mobilized 150. So in the beginning of May, we have mobilized almost as much as in the whole of 2007 in having to respond to specific crises here or there. And, this corresponds to a very worrying pattern."
Guterres says displacement is on the rise everywhere. He attributes this to extreme poverty, aggravated by soaring food and energy prices, the growing impact of climate change, which is causing spreading drought in Africa, and civil conflict.
He says mass migration is leading to an erosion of tolerance in communities and between communities.
"The recent events in South Africa or the trend in many European countries for pressure for legislation restricting migration or asylum," said Guterres. "It is a global problem in developed and developing world. We are witnessing these factors of tension-security, economy, poverty, but also environmental degradation. These factors contribute to the spread of feelings of intolerance and in some more extreme situations of xenophobia."
Guterres says this, in turn, further endangers peace, social stability and harmony in societies.
Figures from 2006 show the UNHCR cares for almost 10 million refugees worldwide. This is a 14 percent increase from the year before.